8. Nature Rising

A elephant that is standing in the grass

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Image by เอกลักษณ์ มะลิซ้อน from Pixabay

The task encourages learners to share different recent news stories concerning animals and to decide whether they are true or false: real or fake news. I’d noticed during the last couple of months how these animal stories seemed to be proliferating. They delighted me at first. I was disappointed, though, to learn that a large proportion of them were simply made up: disappointed that the event as described had never happened (who doesn’t want dolphins in the Grand Canal?) and disappointed in myself for falling for fake news.

I struggled to name this lesson as I think my first choice of title – Fake Gnus – was brilliant and horrible in equal measure: unusable, yet nothing could quite live up to it. So Nature Rising it is. In any case, I’ve collected six of these stories (seven in you include the ludicrous demonstration) and condensed them into short “case files” (see the attached material) – the core idea is that students should get three each; they then take turns summarising each file to a partner, who should listen and decide if it is true or not, and why. This leads on to a personalised discussion of both these particular stories and fake news more generally. I think this works best for intermediate and upwards, teens and adults. See my suggestions at the end for adapting it for lower levels.

Pre-task:

  • Ask the students if they can think of any positive effects of the lockdown – in particular, for the natural world / the environment. Elicit one or two ideas e.g. lower levels of pollution.
  • Tell the students they are going to watch a short video called “Animals Reclaiming the World” – put this title in the chat. Inform them it is compilation of animals during the lockdown. Ask them as they watch to a) work out what this title means b) select their favourite clips. Share your screen to play the clip, which can be found here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4U00C2i6m4.
  • Afterwards elicit a few ideas and opinions (you can do this in rooms if you think the students will have a lot to say, but it’s meant to be a brief stage). The title refers to the fact that animals have had more freedom since lockdown and there are many sightings, clips, pics, stories showing animals in unfamiliar places (e.g. the middle of a city), or behaving in strange ways.
  • Elicit the term fake news. Ask the students if we should believe all of these stories (no); and ask them what we call news stories, usually spread on social media, that are not true (fake news). Tell students they are going to read and share some animal lockdown stories that were reported in the media in the last three months. Our task is to decide if they are real or fake.

Main Task:

  • Demonstrate the task – tell the students you will look at an example story from recent weeks. It is called Lions in Moscow. They need to decide if it is real or fake, and why. Share your screen with them to show them this example (it is at the top of the PDF document Nature Rising Complete Material, which you can find at the end of this subsection – this is for you to use here for the demo and for the students to get at the end of the lesson, as it contains all case files and answers. They should only see their own case files during the lesson).
  • Give the students 2 minutes to skim the story and then briefly put them in rooms with the question: is this real news or fake news? Why do you think so? Emphasise when you come back together they must have good reasons, but keep this pair / groupwork phase brief, as it is quite obviously a fake story. When everyone is back together, take a vote: hands up if they believe it is real; hands up if they believe it is fake. Elicit why they believe it is fake e.g. how could essential workers travel from home to their workplace; where on earth did all these animals come from etc. (a pretty endless list, really, as it’s an absurd story, presumably intended as a joke story even though many were taken in by it).
  • Let them know they will each get 3 other case files: Student A Animal Case Files and Student B Animal Case Files. These stories may be real or fake (but warn them they are all more realistic than Lions in Moscow!):
  • Divide the class into two, with half getting document A, and half getting document B. (Sort the groupings, and who will receive which file, in advance e.g. while the students are watching the clip earlier, or discussing the Lions in Moscow story). Remind them they are going to have to summarise their case files – so it is important they understand the key information, but they don’t need to understand everything. Give them 3-6 minutes to read, depending on their level. Their task is to simply be ready to check anything – ideas, lexis – they are unsure of with a partner who read the same texts. After they read, put them in rooms with partners who read the same texts (AAA and BBB), and allow a few minutes to double check the stories with each other.
  • Option: if short of time, or if three texts would be too much, reduce the number to two or even one.
  • (Note: the links embedded within the case files are not intended to be clicked on during the lesson, unless you have students who can cope with these authentic articles – they should just be reading the brief case file).
  • Students should prepare to summarise their story.
  • Option: if you feel it would be helpful for your learners, build in a phase where, collaboratively, they extract the key facts from their stories. They can work together with others who read the same (AAA, BBB) to put up to ten facts from their story in the Key Information table beneath each text. This can be used as support for the main telling phase. Alternatively, they could highlight key phrases in the text to help with the re-telling. But you should avoid a situation where they are simply reading the text aloud to their partner. For a challenge, if appropriate, tell students not to look at the texts once they are re-telling.
  • Now put them with a new partner or partners who read the other set – so AB, or AABB, as is more convenient, though pairs is ideal here if possible. They should summarise one file at a time. For example A shares their first file, B listens, asks questions to clarify if necessary, and at the end decides if it is real or fake, and why they think so. A then lets them know if they were correct. If the story was fake, they can share some of the extra information from the final row. I think this works well if they take turns with the re-telling (A then B, then A then B etc).
  • This is the main task phase and students should be left to get on with it independently as far as possible. Even so, monitor and make notes for subsequent language feedback. Although you do not want to interrupt the flow, if there is a chance for you to unobtrusively help learners with language they need at the moment of need do so orally or through the chat.
  • In feedback, find out if they guessed correctly and why. If you intend to do the full follow-up task, then keep this brief; if not, feel free to throw out a few questions from the Questions for Further Discussion list to exploit reactions to and opinions of the text and topic.
  • Then either do some language focus now, or save it for after the follow-up task.
  • Give out the Complete Material Handout (just below) at the end of the lesson, so they have all the material (see the extension / homework ideas below).

Follow-up Task:

  • At the end of their worksheets, students will find Questions for Further Discussion. Feel free to do one of these open class (if you haven’t in the feedback to the main task). Then instruct the students in groups / rooms to discuss them, or a set number of them. I recommend, if level appropriate, including 6 and 7 as these are the questions that necessitate some negotiation rather than simply sharing opinions. Feedback on these any points of interest from 1-5, as well as 6-7.

Ideas for Language Focus: 

Grammar

Modal auxiliary verbs for speculation, including conditionals: That could/can’t be true; I think it might be possible if…. ; That strikes me as something that could happen; I don’t believe that elephants would drink so much wine.

Narrative tenses, especially from the texts themselves

e.g. 1 The elephants had entered a village where the humans were indoors due to lockdown.

e.g. 2 It was recently reported that dozens of the monkeys had left the temple where they live and wandered into the town

Lexis

Language to express likelihood: that’s not very likely; that seems/sounds fake; I think that probably did happen; that’s obviously fake; that’s quite convincing.

Key words from the texts: e.g. from the text about the Asian giant hornet: predator, sting, spread…

Social interactions that might arise from the task: I can’t believe you thought it was true / fell for it / didn’t spot that one; Do you really think that….? There’s no way that…. I can’t believe that…. ; You must be joking; I could spot that a mile off.

Functions

Language for agreeing and disagreeing: I think you’re probably right; I’m with you on that; I’m not so sure; No, it’ can’t be real / fake, as….

Giving and responding to opinions (especially in the follow-up task): I think the problem nowadays is….; another solution is to….; another reason is….you’re probably right;

Variations and Extension: 

  • I think you can do this with pre-intermediate learners upwards. The lower the level, the more support that will be needed. One option is to give them their texts in advance of the lesson, so they can read, check lexis and prepare the re-telling before the lesson starts. In which case you might do the “pre-task” at the end of one lesson, set task preparation for homework, and then continue in the next lesson.
  • The jigsaw element to the activity is important for the information gap, but you can change how this works e.g. students could do the main task in threes (ABC) with each only getting two texts – play around with the formatting / documents to make it work for you. This can include simplifying some of the lexis but try to keep it fairly natural.
  • Make sure you give students the complete material document at the end of the lesson so they have a copy of all files. Ask them to read the other files more carefully. Ask them to pick 10-15 new words or phrases they have noticed in the texts to discuss in groups next lesson, or to add to Quizlet.
  • For homework students can read any of the linked articles from the files and present anything new they learned from these in the next lesson (both content and language).
  • They could also read this follow-up article on why people want to believe fake news: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2020/03/why-do-people-want-so-badly-to-believe-this-fake-story-is-true/ You could ask them to summarise the reasons why people want to believe fake news the next lesson. Follow-up: is it better that these stories were revealed to be fake? Is there any harm in believing “innocent” fake news stories?

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